Network (1976) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

I’m starting up the IMDB Top 250 Guest Reviews again (link to list of available films below) & today’s review comes from Keith of Keith & The Movies. Thanks for the review, Keith! 🙂 Now let’s see what he thought of Network, IMDB rank 171 out of 250…

There are another 23 movies available if anyone wants to do a guest review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE. Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos at the top of any of these guest reviews.

***WARNING: SPOILERS***

“Network” is a film that I have probably seen if you piece together all of the portions I’ve watched over time. But it qualified as a Blind Spot because I had never sat down and watched it through. I never could put a finger on what kept me from investing the time to watch a film that many categorize as truly great. Upon watching it in its entirety, I was reminded what first drew me to the movie as well as what pushed me away.

For me “Network” is a mixed bag that is hard a narrow down or label. To call it messy would be an understatement, but there is a reason and motivation behind its messiness. “Network” seeks to push every button it can reach. It strives to be a full-blown outrageous satire, an insightful look behind the scenes, and a sermon on nearly every social or political concern of 1976. Director Sidney Lumet and writer Paddy Chayefsky never allow their film to be pigeonholed but at the same time its constant shifts in tone and voice, specifically in the second half, do more to distract than enlighten.

The film begins by painting itself as a behind-the-scenes expose on a struggling television network. UBS makes the decision to fire their longtime evening news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) after a steady ratings decline. During one of his final broadcasts Beale threatens to kill himself on live television (an idea inspired by Christine Chubbuck’s on-air suicide in 1974). This infuriates the network heads who have him removed immediately.

Beale’s best friend and news division boss Max Schumacher (William Holden) allows him to appear one more time in order to bow out with dignity. Beale uses the opportunity to go on a mad rant which again angers his bosses but spikes the network ratings. Programming director and ruthless ratings hawk Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) convinces her boss Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) to exploit Beale’s obvious mental breakdown much to Max’s disapproval.

But “Network” then shoots off into a number of unusual directions including an ill-fated romance between Diana and Max. Diana is incapable of loving anything other than television ratings while Max flippantly and emotionlessly leaves his wife of 25 years Louise (earnestly played by Beatrice Straight who won an Oscar for her whopping 5 minutes of screen time). It is a weird side road that only plays out in spurts. There is a compelling current in each of their scenes yet we are never allowed the time to fully understand the relationship.

The film also branches off into a Patty Hearst-like side story complete with an urban leftist militant group directly patterned after the Symbionese Liberation Army. These scenes start off strong but intentionally grow more absurd. These things all clash together before culminating in an ending which is completely off the rails. Again, none of this is by accident. Lumet and Chayefsky have so much to say, so much to explore, and so many indictments. Some of it is chilling and prophetic while some gets lost in the melange of loud rants and pointed lectures. But somehow it is always compelling.

“Network” was a huge success in 1976 and was widely applauded by critics. It won a total of four Oscars (for Dunaway, Finch, Straight, and Chayefsky) and was nominated for six more. It is a film that does so many interesting things and it subverts nearly any expectation the audience may have going in. Yet despite its irreverent ambitions it is messy to a fault. The clashing between seriousness and satire is jolting and not always in an entertaining way. I also don’t think the film lives up to its own lofty feelings of self-importance. It ends up being an engaging but frustrating road full of many ups and some disappointing downs.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

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Chinatown (1974) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Damien of Flashback/Backslide. He also reviewed Sin City here & Memento here. Thanks for the reviews, Damien! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about Chinatown, IMDB rank 78 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.

Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.

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CHINATOWN

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Any tour through the film noir landscape will likely stop for a visit with Roman Polansky’s Chinatown. Released in 1974, the film is held up as the quintessential neo-noir, that new batch of films debuting from the 1960’s and onwards which lifted traits from film noir’s Golden Age but branded the genre with elements not seen in the post-war period. Touring through The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946) reveals the habits of those first noirs, filled with tough-guy detectives and Humphrey Bogart’s cold stares and wry smiles. Chinatown uses the mold of these early films then breaks it, adding in elements not fitted for screens twenty years earlier.

Jack Nicholson stars as Jake Gittes, a private investigator in 1937 Los Angeles. Like Spade and Marlowe, Gittes isn’t picky with clients he takes but the weight of the job and the secrets he’s uncovered appear to be more a burden for him than they did for Bogart. The film’s complicated story begins with what appears to be a simple mystery. After dismissing one client, a tired Gittes reenters his office to find a stoic woman sitting across the room. She calls on his services because she believes her husband is seeing another woman. Gittes hears the complaint, sighs then sarcastically responds “No…Really?” By this point he must have seen dozens of these cases and is not eager to jump into another. Gittes quickly disregards her worries: “Mrs. Mulwray do your love your husband? Then go home and forget everything. I’m sure that he loves you too. Do you know the expresion ‘let sleeping dogs lie’? You’re…better off not knowing” But soon he finds the adulterer in question is Hollis Mulwray, an influential Los Angeles city planner. Realizing the money to be made, Gittes signs on and is plunged into a complicated mystery involving nearly a dozen instigators.

Chinatown establishes its film noir chops early and often. Stereotyped film noir elements are found throughout; smoking with exceptionaly long cigarette stems, venetian blinds (Gittes mentions Venetian blinds in the first spoken line), characteristic fashion (namely overly-fancy hats), stereotyped camera angles and the use mirrors and reflections including an interesting reflection off a camera lens showing us Gittes and his point of view simultaneously. Jack Nicholson plays a sadder, more defeated version of Sam Spade. Faye Dunaway, gives an incredible performance as his femme fatale, bringing to life the desperate Evelyn Mulwray. John Huston, legendary director of noir classics like The Maltese Falcon and Key Largo is cast as one of the central characters and gives one of the film’s most memorable performances.

The mystery at the center of Chinatown turns out to be far more complicated than that in The Maltese Falcon or The Third Man and with more sinister dealings at the core. Debuting in 1974 likely factors into the plot. By then audience members would expect a more mysterious mystery and would tolerate more sex and violence along the way. From the very beginning sex is front and center as the opening frames show close-ups of photographs taken of a sex scene. Gittes famously has his nose cut during the film, leaving Jack Nicholson’s bandaged face on most stills. Between those opening frames, a sliced nose, rape and incest, much of the content here wouldn’t have passed censors twenty years earlier.

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Rating:10/10

Classic Film Scale Rating: 8/10

Bottomline: A worthy flag-bearer for the neo-noir genre, Chinatown takes all the best elements of the Golden Age noirs and even improves on the classics.

Thanks for reading!

Flashback/Backslide